On May 23, I had the honor and privilege to be part of the judging panel for the first-ever Microsoft Girls Steam Challenge in Puerto Rico. At a time when it’s more critical than ever for women to enter the technology field and take on positions that have been traditionally dominated by men, the event served to spark interest and enthusiasm among girls in middle- and high-school, and show the world that woman can code with the best of them.
The Microsoft Puerto Rico Girls STEAM Challenge 2019 brought together girls from public and private schools in grades six to twelve, across the island, to develop projects in the areas of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics). The goal was to help them recognize the impact they can have on society by being part of the new generation of female technology innovators.
Using Microsoft technologies exclusively, the girls were asked to create a two-minute video and a presentation on Microsoft Sway. The 10 finalist projects presented their projects, and the five winners of the Superior category have the opportunity to participate in the Innovation Learning Week, a week of technical training. The global winners received a Microsoft Surface computer.
When I was invited in March to be one of the judges, I didn’t know what to expect, but was ready and willing to contribute and give back, since promoting technology education is part of Wovenware’s Corporate Social Responsibility initiative. In addition, when I was younger, I had the opportunity to participate in similar programs at the university level and I was curious to hear what was on the minds of young girls in a time overloaded with information and distractions. Little did I know how inspiring these insights would be.
After attending an earlier meeting with the other judges to go over the rules, I received the summary of the eight projects I was assigned to review. The projects needed to include at least two disciplines covered in STEAM, one of them being technology, and when reviewing them I had to take into consideration key attributes, such as innovation, methodology, results and social impact. The themes presented were: health, economy, education, citizen safety and environmental sustainability.
I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of understanding and creativity in each project I reviewed. I received them on a Saturday afternoon and quickly became absorbed in them for the day. Some of the topics included: a homemade water filter and purifier using aloe vera, inspired by the challenges of hurricane Maria; seismic prediction models using oceanic and seismic events data; and stroke detection using facial recognition and machine learning. I got the opportunity to see the semifinalists present live, Their understanding of the subject matter, energy and engagement skills were on point and quite impressive. These girls, many only 14 or 15-years-old, made it perfectly clear that the next generation of innovators has great ideas and they deserve to be heard.
At the award ceremony I was able to review other finalists’ projects and talk to these amazing Puerto Rican young women who are defining our future. Once the official Microsoft winners were announced I had the opportunity to go on stage and present a special recognition from Wovenware to the girls that demonstrated unparalleled passion, perseverance, discipline and the curiosity factor that pushes you to a higher level.
While this opportunity reminded me of my university experiences with technology competitions, it also demonstrated just how far we have come. In my experience years ago, the room was filled with young men, and only a small handful of young women. It seems we are certainly coming full circle and the future of technology will be led by both men and women.
I’m extremely honored to have been invited by Keren Henriquez, Director- Education & Corporate Social Responsibility at Microsoft to be part of this important event; and I’m hopeful that the next generation of technology innovators — comprised of really smart women and men – is in good hands.